This story was reported by Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Bridget Murphy and Andrew Smith. It was written by Murphy.
Former restaurateur Harendra Singh resisted the defense's suggestion Thursday that the perks he lavished on then-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, were evidence of a deep friendship — and not the bribes the GOP official is accused of taking in exchange for contracts and loans.
Linda Mangano’s attorney, John Carman, drilled Singh on his fifth day of testimony in the couple’s corruption retrial by confronting the government's star witness with texts and anecdotes meant to bolster the defense strategy.
“I love you more than a million country salads put together. Xoxo,” Linda Mangano told Singh in one of the text exchanges.
The message referred to a menu item at H.R. Singletons, the former flagship of Singh’s now-defunct restaurant empire, where the businessman has said the Manganos frequently ate free.
Carman also highlighted a text from Thanksgiving 2014, when Linda Mangano texted Singh to say she was thankful for his friendship and loved him, his wife, Ruby, and their sons.
“You are the closest thing I will ever have to a brother,” the county executive’s wife wrote.
“My friend you are making me cry. We love you guys. I don’t know where I would be without you guys," Singh replied at the time.
Edward Mangano is facing charges that include federal program bribery. His wife is accused of lying to the FBI.
Among the bribes that prosecutors say Singh gave Edward Mangano was a $450,000 “no-show” job for Linda Mangano a few months after her husband’s election.
The government witness tried to stick to his claim Thursday that the perks began flowing to the Manganos only after Edward Mangano became Nassau county executive in 2010.
Singh tried to portray Linda Mangano as a person he liked, but essentially only someone who was the spouse of his primary friend and benefactor.
When evidence showed Linda Mangano had signed off most of her text messages to Singh with a “Love u” or referred to him as “my love,” the witness downplayed the displays of affection.
Singh said she communicated that way with everyone. The prosecution witness also testified that she would call or text him “when she needed something.”
When her defense attorney pointed out a time when Singh offered to take her food when she had the flu, he replied that he was always taking food to the couple’s Bethpage home anyway.
When Carman asked Singh if he loved the Manganos, he said: “I cared. That was our relationship.”
Singh acknowledged that he was friends with Edward Mangano long before he became county executive, but added that he spent much more time with the Mangano family after the Republican's successful election bid in 2009.
Carman also asked about a running joke Singh once had, in which he would tell Linda Mangano that he should kill Edward Mangano and run off with her.
“It was just a joke between Linda and I, in front of Ed,” Singh testified.
Carman’s cross-examination strategy built on one of the major themes that Edward Mangano's attorney, Kevin Keating, seized on in his earlier questioning of Singh.
The defense is trying to portray Singh, 60, of Laurel Hollow, as a liar and a cheat who stole from his own father, and also claims he is testifying against the Manganos, longtime family friends, to try to gain leniency after pleading guilty to his own crimes of tax evasion and bribery.
"Testify against Ed and Linda or die in jail, that was your choice, right?" Carman asked Singh at one point on Thursday.
But Singh replied that he'd decided to cooperate with prosecutors and tell the truth after conversations with his attorney.
For the second time, Edward Mangano, 56, is standing trial on seven felony offenses that include federal program bribery, conspiracy and extortion.
Linda Mangano, 55, is being tried on five felony offenses that include conspiracy and lying to the FBI about the alleged "no-show" job from Singh.
The couple's first trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip ended last May in a mistrial.
Keating wrapped up his cross-examination of Singh on Thursday by focusing largely on evidence related to wiretap or body wire recordings.
Singh did acknowledge that he told his one-time lawyer, Joseph Conway, on a call he didn't know was wiretapped, that Linda Mangano should just tell authorities the truth about the job he gave her.
“There’s nothing there,” Singh told Conway on the May 2015 recording.
Singh also told the Mineola lawyer on the taped call that while Linda Mangano had “a tendency to talk too much,” he still wasn’t concerned as she prepared for a meeting the next day with federal agents and prosecutors.
In previous testimony, Singh had explained the wiretapped conversation by saying he was keeping the truth from his attorney about giving Linda Mangano a job and bribing her husband because Conway then represented several people who were possible investigation targets and he didn’t trust him.
On Thursday, Singh said: "I didn't want to tell Joe Conway I was giving Linda Mangano a 'no-show' job and I was paying bribes to Ed Mangano. That was something I didn’t want to tell Joe."
But Keating confronted him with a transcript of a different wiretap recording in which Singh told his wife that Conway had been “a godsend,” and then another recording in which Singh told that his brother the attorney had been “a miracle person.”
However, Singh continued to insist Thursday that at the time in question he was being careful about what he divulged to his then-lawyer.
Also Thursday, Keating played for the jury a recording of a May 2015 conversation between Singh and Frederick Mei, then an Oyster Bay deputy town attorney, that Mei surreptitiously taped while wearing an FBI body wire.
On the recording, Singh told Mei that Mangano had done "nothing, nothing" for him.
The prosecution witness previously testified he was lying to Mei at that time, because he "compartmentalized" his bribes and only discussed them privately with individual recipients.
Singh said in court Thursday he "had no reason to disclose to anybody" the nature of his interactions with Mangano.
He also admitted that Edward Mangano paid for some of the expenses on the five vacations that prosecutors say were among Singh's bribes.
For example, on a 2010 trip to Niagara Falls, Mangano paid for at least one dinner for the two families, Singh agreed.
He also said Edward Mangano picked up the tab for both families to go on an airboat tour of the Everglades during a 2011 trip to Marco Island, Florida.
Also, the witness acknowledged the Manganos paid their own hotel bill on a 2014 trip to Amelia Island, Florida.
Keating also brought out a wiretap recording of Singh speaking to a friend, former Nassau County Police Det. Roger Paganuzzi. It was taped before the businessman was cooperating with the government. Singh was talking about the federal investigation and what agents might want from him.
Singh has testified previously that he was “in denial” when he insisted in the secretly recorded June 2015 conversation that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I don’t know anything about politicians,” Singh said on that wiretap, adding in part: “I’d have to lie."
He also acknowledged to the retired detective on the recording that he was in big legal trouble.
"If they want to get me, they'll get me big time," Singh said.